Nearly 10 years after the release of Metroid Fusion, we have a brand new 2D Metroid game released for the Switch this year! I actually only got into playing the Metroid games back in 2019 with Super Metroid and then binged both Zero Mission and Fusion last year (and blogged about all three). I generally enjoyed all of them (though Fusion less so than the other two) and was also just excited for a big-name Metroidvania game, so I was pretty quick to pick up Dread.
It’s definitely a fun and interesting game. I had a lot of thoughts on the game design and map design of the game, so I’m going to try to unpack them and write them up.
This blog post is spoiler free, so there are some things that I liked/disliked but won’t touch on here.
Metroid Dread is interesting because it feels both fairly linear and not linear at the same time. It’s still ultimately a non linear map. Areas open up drastically once you “clear” an area. There’s upgrades to find and plenty of shortcuts to unlock. When I was playing through the game, it felt very much so like I was being funneled into a certain place via map design, rather than via having a waypoint or quest marker. It certainly feels less in your face than quest markers. It’s more subtle.
A lot of times, I think you do end up just going “forward” and the game will send you to where you need to be in one way or another. It felt like there were a fair amount of one-way routes (such as falling somewhere and not being able to go back up) or paths that are blocked until you go around and unlock them on the other side, or paths that are blocked by abilities. Once a path is unblocked, it remains open. Also once you get more traversal options, it continually opens up.
I never got confused as to what I needed to do next. Often I just ended up at the right place somehow or another, or the way forward was relatively close by.
However, despite my Dread experience being quite linear, I’ve actually seen a couple threads on all the sequence breaks you can do and there’s actually a lot of ways to get something earlier than you “should”. I haven’t dove too keep into this yet (but really want to), but I’m explicitly including this because it feeds into my thoughts of the game being “both linear and not”.
And some of this sequence break non-linearity is most definitely intentional. There’s one boss in which if you get a certain ability early via sequence break, there’s a mechanism in the room to one shot the second phase in a single hit.
Honestly, Metroid has always been really good at this, but I like how when you get a new ability, the game pretty much forces you to use it immediately. This ties into the linearity thing in the sense that the way it forces you to use it immediately is by making it such that you can’t go back the way you came.
Personally, I like this a lot. There are still written instructions that flash on the screen whenever you get something new, but it feels more in the vein of “show, don’t tell”, which is something I really appreciate. Like it sometimes shows you some clever ways to use the upgrade on your way out via gameplay instead of tutorial.
I’m not a fan of how Samus feels and controls in the older Metroid games. It feels really slow and floaty. Aiming is sorta awkward. I also found the boss fights in Super Metroid and Zero Mission to be pretty lame and unmemorable (with the exception being Ridley in Super Metroid). I liked the boss fights in Fusion though. I thought those were a really good step up.
Combat in Dread feels great. Samus is much faster and so much more mobile. You can slide under things, wall jumping is made significantly easier, and there’s a ton of movement upgrades (some old, some new). Samus has a counter move that’s maybe a bit overpowered, but feels really good to pull off and makes combat and going through rooms feeling fast and snappy.
Samus can now also aim in all directions, thanks to the wonder invention of the joystick.
I also really enjoyed (most of) the boss fights. They were pretty challenging and interesting, and in my opinion, there was a good variety of boss mechanics to figure out.
Taking these things into account, it makes traversing the map really fun and satisfying. That’s one major pet peeve I have with some Metroidvanias. If I’m going to have to backtrack to old places, or if I’m going to have to scour the map for upgrades and secrets, I don’t want it to be tedious to travel through the world because then it’s just really not fun.
But in Metroid Dread you can run and gun through rooms at a fast pace and feel really cool. And the map is well connected enough in my opinion to not be too obnoxious with traversal.
What’s interesting in terms of backtracking, is that I often went back to old areas, but until near the end of the game, I never actually myself “backtracked” but rather I just went forward and found a way back to a place to re-explore with the new abilities or warp/transportation points.
The areas are generally interesting to look at, but I didn’t consider them to be exceptionally aesthetically distinct (which was disappointing because that’s something I really love) but it was good enough to make the world feel more dynamic. I just think everything looks the same.
The map is pretty huge. There’s a good handful of areas, and each of them are pretty large. Each area is technically discrete, but there’s a lot of transportation points between them, so it’s ultimately still well interconnected.
It also felt like there were just so many shortcuts everywhere, which is something I enjoy.
The map being as huge as it is makes it really cluttered and honestly quite confusing to look at. On one hand, I really appreciate being able to see each thing on the map. You can see exactly where the room has blocks that need to be bombed, or grappled, or etc. Got the screw attack? Well you can look through the map for every screw attack block you’ve uncovered.
If you don’t have the ability to break through something, it displays as ??? which to me was pretty helpful such that I didn’t spend time trying to figure out what kind of thing I need to do to get through a certain object or door.
I would consider Metroid Dread to be difficult without being punishing. In the E.M.M.I parts of the game where you have to avoid the E.M.M.I or else you die in one hit, you generally never need to spend a ton of time in the zone at once. This is where the linearity comes into play I think in the sense that you can generically go “forward” and find a way out or a rest point after not that long. That way, if you die (which happened to me a lot), you don’t lose a ton of progress.
And then the checkpoints and re-spawning are pretty generous. There are zero “boss runs” in this game. If you die on a boss, you can just go try again, which honestly I really love. I find boss runs to be a large case of artificially difficulty and usually just discourages me from trying over and over again.
Also, if you counter enemies properly, they drop a lot more things than they would if you just shot them down normally. This firstly incentivizes learning how to parry, but also makes it fairly easy to regain health, such that most of your deaths are within E.M.M.I zones or boss fights. If I’m just leisurely wandering about, I didn’t have to worry too much. I think that’s a good thing because it makes exploring more enjoyable.
The save rooms are well spread out too, but generally easy to find. It’s not like you can abuse save scumming, but it’s also not likely that you’ll spend a really long time without a good stopping point.
But like I said, I’d still consider this game to be fairly challenging. I wasn’t a huge fan of the E.M.M.I sequences, but the bosses are a good level of difficult in my opinion. I loved the final boss.
I ended the game at 54% completion which is actually significantly lower than I thought it would be since I felt like I went and combed the map for missile packs, but I guess there’s just a lot I completely missed 😅
Yeah, if you couldn’t tell, I really really liked this game. I think it’s easily my favorite 2D Metroid game. I would definitely say though that my least favorite parts of the games where the E.M.M.I sections just because I found them overly frustrating and not fun. However, the rest of the game easily makes up for it for me and those are ultimately just a small portion of the game (despite all the advertising).
I’m probably not going to go do 100% or Hard Mode, but I do really want to watch speedruns of this game.
Here’s to hoping that we don’t need to wait another 10 years for the next game.